Contents of this issue:
  • Michigan Senate passes school health insurance bills

  • Texas Supreme Court rules education tax unconstitutional

  • Grand Rapids superintendent job could draw many applicants

  • High cost of fingerprinting school employees

  • Judge dismisses NCLB lawsuit

  • School district, parents sue former principal

Lansing, Mich. — The Michigan Senate last week passed a package of bills that could help public schools lower health care costs by millions of dollars, according to Booth Newspapers.

Senate Bills 895-898 are designed to allow school districts to either self-insure or form regional pools in order to purchase health insurance for teachers and other employees, Booth reported.

"This option will create more dollars for the classroom," said Sen. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland. "The (health) benefits don't need to change. Where you purchase those benefits will."

The legislation has the support of school administrators, the Michigan AFL-CIO and the Michigan Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, according to Booth. The Michigan Federation of Teachers estimates savings of more than $150 million statewide in the first year and $230 million by the third year.

The Michigan Education Special Services Association, a third-party insurance administrator started by the Michigan Education Association, is against the bills. MESSA handles insurance for more than half the public school teachers in Michigan.

"Teachers and other school employees would be the only workers in Michigan not covered by the consumer protections afforded all other workers in multiple-employer pools," said Gary Fralick, a MESSA spokesman.

A similar pool has already been created by several school districts in Kent County, where costs are expected to fall 8 percent, Booth reported.

The bills now move to the state House of Representatives, which last week debated, but did not pass, House Bill 4947. That bill, according to, would place new school employees into a defined contribution, or 401(k)-type plan, rather than the current defined benefit plan run by the Michigan State Public School Employees Retirement System.

Booth Newspapers, "House, Senate look to reduce schools' pension, health care costs," Dec. 1, 2005 storylist=mibusiness, "2005 Senate Bill 895 (Allow school district health insurance pools)", "2005 Senate Bill 896 (Create state "stop loss" pool for school health insurance)", "2005 Senate Bill 897 (Allow school district health insurance pools)", "2005 Senate Bill 898 (Allow community college health insurance pools)", "2005 House Bill 4947 (401k type pension for new school employees)"

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Michigan Education Special Services Agency: The MEA's Money Machine," Nov. 1, 1993

Mackinac Center for Public Policy, "Collective Bargaining: Bringing Education to the Table," Aug. 1, 1998

Austin, Texas — The Texas Supreme Court last month voted 7-1 to overturn a statewide school property tax, according to the Houston Chronicle. The court also gave the Texas Legislature until June 1, 2006, to come up with a new school funding plan.

In an editorial, The Wall Street Journal welcomed the ruling, pointing out that Texas spends an average of $10,000 per student, which the court said meets the funding "adequacy" requirement of the state constitution. The court also declared "more money does not guarantee better schools or more educated students," The Journal said.

The Journal added that the decision is favorable for students in poor school districts, "because it shifts the policy emphasis from money to achievement." The court also spoke in support of parental choice, saying "public education could benefit from more competition."

An earlier decision by District Judge John Dietz said a statewide $1.50 tax per $100 of assessed value for school operations had become "a floor and a ceiling, denying school districts 'meaningful discretion' in setting their tax rates," the Chronicle reported. He ruled the valuation cap unconstitutional and the Texas high court agreed.

The Journal encouraged Texas Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature to be open to a wide range of options as it restructures school financing, "including charters, vouchers, scholarships and rewards for quality, such as teacher pay for performance."

Houston Chronicle, "Court rules state school finance system unconstitutional," Nov. 22, 2005

The Wall Street Journal, "Texas School Lesson," Nov. 29, 2005 (subscription required)

Michigan Education Report, "Jen and the art of education," Aug. 16, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Study Concludes School Funding Outpaces Inflation Under Prop A," Sept. 6, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "K-12 spending guarantee ignores economics," Aug. 16, 2005

Grand Rapids, Mich. — As many as 20 candidates could apply to be the next superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools, The Grand Rapids Press reported. Current Superintendent Bert Bleke will retire at the end of the school year.

Timothy Quinn of the Michigan Leadership Institute told the Grand Rapids school board two applications have been submitted, but that 30 to 40 people have been contacted, according to The Press. Quinn's MLI is conducting the candidate search. He speculates up to 20 people may apply, with 60 percent coming from out of state.

Quinn told the board he has placed ads in national education publications and on Web sites for state and national school administrators, The Press reported. Quinn said he hopes contentious matters such as school closings won't limit the number of candidates. Questions from those he has contacted have been about declining enrollment, achievement gaps and charter schools, according to The Press.

"I have no reason to believe that we won't have some outstanding applicants," Quinn said. "People who have been involved with urban education anywhere in the country are warriors and they won't shy away from Grand Rapids."

Quinn hopes to have eight to 10 applications for the board to review in January, with a final decision to be made in mid-February, according to The Press. The deadline for applications is Dec. 9.

The Grand Rapids Press, "Twenty likely to be in line for Bleke's job," Nov. 29, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "New GRPS Superintendent Could Make $200,000," Oct. 18, 2005

Lansing, Mich. — A new law requiring all school employees to be fingerprinted will cost millions of dollars, although officials are unsure how to pay for it, according to recent stories in The Grand Rapids Press.

"It's a big chore and it's a big expense," said Ron Koehler, assistant superintendent for the Kent County Intermediate School District.

The law is part of the "Student Safety Initiatives," a package of bills passed earlier this year after more than two dozen convicted sex offenders were found working in Michigan schools, The Press reported. Schools will be required to fingerprint and conduct FBI background checks on all employees, even those who have been fingerprinted before or have no contact with students, The Press reported. State law has required background checks on new teachers since 1993.

Fingerprinting will cost about $74 per employee and must be completed by Jan. 1, 2008, according to The Press. The Michigan State Police would then provide a list after comparing criminal records against school personnel information.

Arthur Przbylowicz, general counsel for the Michigan Education Association, said the resulting list would be made public and may not be accurate.

"This could harm greatly the reputation of an individual," he told The Press. "The potential for error is tremendous."

The Grand Rapids Press, "Tighter scrutiny ahead for Michigan school employees," Nov. 27, 2005

The Grand Rapids Press, "Schools balk at fingerprint mandate," Nov. 29, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Granholm Signs Student Safety Bills," Oct. 4, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Commentary: Students' Safety More Important Than Privacy," Jan. 7, 2004

Detroit — A federal district judge based in Detroit dismissed a lawsuit that asked to block the No Child Left Behind Act, according to newspaper reports. School districts in three states argued they should not have to comply with the law because they claimed its mandates were unfunded.

U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman dismissed the suit, filed against U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings by school districts in Michigan, Texas and Vermont, according to the Detroit Free Press. The National Education Association and NEA locals in 10 states also joined the suit.

An Associated Press story in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported that Friedman's ruling said, "Congress has appropriated significant funding" for NCLB and in exchange for that money it has the authority to require states to impose standards.

"This is a victory for children and parents all across the country," Spellings said. "Judge Friedman's decision validates our partnership with states to close the achievement gap, hold schools accountable and to ensure all students are reading and doing math at grade-level by 2014."

The NEA, a union of 2.7 million teachers and school personnel, plans to appeal, the Free Press reported.

One of the plaintiffs in the suit, Pontiac Public Schools Superintendent Mildred Mason, told the Free Press that the district complied with NCLB but "burned up all of our resources and reserves."

Detroit Free Press, "Schools lose lawsuit, fear money crisis," Nov. 24, 2005

Minneapolis Star-Tribune, "No Child Left Behind lawsuit thrown out," Nov. 23, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "Improvements Seen Under No Child Left Behind," Oct. 25, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "NCLB Underfunded?," April 11, 2005

Mt. Clemens, Mich. — Richard Zaranek is being sued by the Chippewa Valley School District and the Cherokee Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization, according to The Voice, a weekly newspaper in Macomb County. The school district and PTO asked a Macomb County Circuit Court judge last week to freeze Zaranek's assets until their civil case against him is finished, according to The Detroit News. That decision will be made Jan. 9.

Zaranek, 54, pleaded guilty in federal district court on Oct. 27 to embezzlement and money laundering and was ordered to repay about $400,000 to the school district and PTO. He also faces more than two years in prison and a $60,000 fine, The Voice reported.

"We will prosecute it to the fullest extent of the law when the community's money and/or property is stolen," Chippewa Valley Superintendent Mark Deldin told The Voice. "We will not tolerate it."

The Voice, "Chippewa Valley to sue Zaranek for losses," Nov. 8, 2005

The Detroit News, "Court case targets ex-principal's assets," Nov. 30, 2005 AID=/20051130/METRO03/511300368& SearchID=73228134809140

Michigan Education Digest, "Former Union Official Accused of Embezzlement," Nov. 8, 2005

Michigan Education Digest, "East Detroit Schools' Accountants Failed To Report Embezzlement Scheme," Sept. 16, 2005

Michigan Education Report, "Financial scandals exposed in Michigan school districts," Nov. 17, 2002

MICHIGAN EDUCATION DIGEST is a service of Michigan Education Report (, a quarterly newspaper with a circulation of 140,000 published by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute.

Contact Managing Editor Ted O'Neil at

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